Barça’s big battles, Málaga’s Porto problems and a coaching circus at Celta

If you ply your trade in the Catalan sports papers, you’ve pretty much got two options for your lead ahead of any Barça match: either a smug reflection on the club’s wonderful youth system, or a smug reflection on the wonderful Leo Messi.

Perhaps in a decision made over a tasty and traditional lunch of some kind of vegetable dipped in batter, both big papers in Barcelona have gone for a two pronged approach on Wednesday, ahead of Barça’s match against AC Milan. Mundo Deportivo have trumpeted the “Masia team in San Siro!” with Sport plonking a lovely photograph of Leo Messi on the front cover, with the banner “The Clásico of Champions”.

It’s a sign that the last 16 tie with Silvio Berlusconi’s battlers is a game where Barça are expected to pass through without too much fuss and discomfort, like a bunch of grapes consumed just before bedtime. But that doesn’t stop Mundo Deportivo's Miguel Rico trying to grab the attention of the average Barça fan, who may have been lulled into a soporific state of stultifying stupour by a non-existent title race.

“The next seven matches are going to make the season. Five will be at the Camp Nou and two will be life or death.” A picky LLL will take issue with regards to the league games in question as, Barça could lose every one 57-0 and Real Madrid would still be light years behind in the table. The upcoming Copa del Rey and Champions League clashes are only important until an even more important, season-defining match comes along in a couple of week’s time.

Still, it’s Einstein-level physics compared to the hyperbole written by Sport's Josep Maria Casanovas, who may have needed to wipe himself down following his attempt to get everyone else’s juices flowing, as well as his own. “Dear Reader, close your eyes, let your imagination fly and when it comes back, picture being in the San Siro dressing room half-an-hour before the match begins,” writes Casanovas, kicking off a reverie of footballers being all calm, collected and deciding who’s going to give Bojan a wedgie. LLL actually imagines the dressing room being empty at that stage, given it's when the players will be out enjoying their pre-match warm up.

The Sport scribe also has full confidence in the ability of Tito Vilanova to oversee Barça’s affairs from New York - “he has a lot of free time to think” - where the manager is undergoing treatment for his illness, using “new technologies making miracles” such as an “iPhone and iPod”. God bless Alexander Graham Bell.

Barça are aiming to be the first la Liga side to secure victory in this season's Champions League knock-out stages. Málaga suffered a bit of Tuesday night bother with a 1-0 defeat away to Porto, although it could have been a lot worse for the visitors. “We didn’t create much danger,” admitted manager Manuel Pellegrini. “They beat us in midfield,” rued Julio Baptista. However, Málaga are still in with a more than decent chance in the return leg, with the damage from the evening fairly limited in the end.

Traveling north through Portugal and out the other end into Vigo, Celta president Carlos Mouriño didn’t exactly have one of his finest hours. Despite blathering on about sticking with coach Paco Herrera through thick and thin - “you either have credit or you don’t, Herrera has it with us,” the Celta overlord announced last Wednesday - the decision was made to fire poor Paco after the weekend defeat to Getafe.

The problem was that Herrera was pretty much the last to hear this news, with surely former Levante and Atlético Madrid boss Abel Resino lined-up behind his back. There was then a bit of a hitch when Resino's desired number two, Salvo Ballesta, was refused a post due to pressure from the club's fans. Ballesta is a character whose very clear and oft-reported notions of what constitutes being Spanish were always unlikely to sit well with the regionalism of Galicia. 

“I don’t have fixed political ideas. I’ve said this a thousand times,” said the irked former player. “I’m Spanish and will die being a Spaniard.” Ballesta also said that a lot of what was written about him was nonsense, telling TV show Punto Pelota “I don’t admire Nazis”.

Mouriño claimed in a testy press conference on Tuesday that any agreement to bring in Ballesta was made between Resino and himself. “Celta didn’t veto anyone. Celta either sign someone of they don’t,” explained Mouriño unhelpfully. “We decided he couldn’t come to Celta after analysing the problems he had in other clubs and his inexperience of being the second coach of our team.”

So that’s both Galician teams going down then....

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